Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Vaycays and Birthdays

September has been a pretty taxing month around here. A week in Grand Cayman, toes in the sand, ocean breezes, and then a return to Charlotte for another week or so of birthday hoopla. There's been gifts, decorations, multiple cakes, and multiple celebrations. Hey, we get by.

The Sunday before Labor Day, we left for our annual vacation. This year's travel was a little unique in the facts that a) due to all our house renovations, we typically wouldn't have taken a trip anywhere, but b) Clint was turning 40 and the occasion clearly called for some type of destination. Preferably tropical. And so we went.

For those of you who haven't been to the Cayman Islands, the beaches were, aside from Hawaii, the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. The water was crystal clear and the sand was as fine and white as sugar. Thankfully, the wave of tropical storms came and went before we got there, and we enjoyed gorgeous sunny days, warm temperatures, and plenty of time at the pool and on the beach. Someone has to do it, right?

I brought along some decorations and made our hotel room festive for the occasion.

And, because this is me we're talking about, I also brought along some props for pictures.

 After all, how can one get into the proper celebratory spirit without novelty sunglasses?

Now, because of all that clear, gorgeous ocean, water activities are a main attraction in the Caymans. Ever the active adventurers (go ahead and laugh when you read that, I did), we took part in a few excursions around the island to take full advantage of our location.

Clint went paddle boarding. I really would have joined him, except for my lack of balance, hatred of salt water in my nostrils, and need to take pictures and snicker at him while standing firmly on the shore. But he looks good doing it, which is all that matters.

Stingray City is one of Grand Cayman's biggest tourist draws. It's a sandbar, out in the middle of the ocean, where the water is only about three or four feet deep. Boats full of tourists pour in with buckets of food for the stingrays, who are so tame they swim right up and eat out of your hand. We were told we simply had to go. On our way to Stingray City, we stopped for some snorkeling.

What can I say, except we are clearly in our element. Well, we were way better than the Canadian cruise goers who were snorkeling for the first time, I can tell you that. We would also like to thank Moby Dick Tours for the completely state-of-the-art equipment we were provided. I'm not sure I've ever had the opportunity to inflate my own life vest.

After an hour or so of fish watching and snorkeling, it was our turn at the Stingray City sand bar. There were boats and excited sightseers everywhere.

If you remember what happened to Steve Erwin several years ago, you will understand why my first reaction was that I was not getting off the boat. But Clint reminded me that this was the premier attraction, there would be plenty of great photo ops, and that he would ridicule me openly for the rest of my life for chickening out. Into the water I went.

I did blatantly refuse to handle the squid that the stingrays eat. I know that's the way to their heart and all, but I could not bring myself to reach into that bucket of raw slime while stingrays swirled around my feet, ankles, and legs. I would have to rely on charm alone. Well, that, and our tour guides. Clint, however, reached right in.

It wasn't long before my heart had stopped beating in my throat and I settled down enough to hold a ray. The smaller ones are the males and are about 18 inches in diameter, so Clint warmed up with one of those guys. Then the females came around and they are large and in charge. We held a 60 or 70 pound stingray and were told the largest one there is around six feet across. They were tame and extremely calm and gentle.

The family that "rays" together, stays together. Am I right? And so ends the sporty portion of our exploits.

I'm sure it goes without saying that we also ate some excellent food while we were there. We feasted on lobster rolls, lobster tacos, lobster quesadillas. The last night we were in Grand Cayman, we enjoyed more wonderful lobster at the Lobster Pot Restaurant, which has been family owned for over 30 years. We had a table right by the water and our meal was delicious (I'm still thinking about you, lobster mashed potatoes).

After dinner, and because we are powerless to resist a gimmick, we stopped by Coconut Joe's. As the name promises, we got an after dinner drink served in a coconut, and were all smiles. It was a nice way to cap off a wonderful trip.

Once we got back home, it was time to get down to business. The business of more celebrating! After all, 40 is a milestone, and I love an occasion to celebrate. Once our suitcases were unpacked and the mountain of laundry was conquered, I finished my birthday shopping and put up yet another round of birthday decor.

Balloons, yard signs, champagne, ice cream cake--aren't those the things that make the world go 'round? And gifts. Let's not forget the gifts.

Now, I forgot to take pictures of the nice presents that I gave Clint to commemorate the occasion--including an engraved pen, a belt, and a pair of suede boots--but I did think to photograph him opening luxuries like small batch bourbon and a t-shirt, so please enjoy.

The Clemson shirt was a must-have, for the Georgia Tech alumnus who sportingly cheers for my Tigers in every game except one (when our teams play each other), who willingly wears orange on game day, and who enthusiastically sets up and takes down each and every tailgate.

After all the gifts were open, we went to the restaurant he chose for the occasion: Beef and Bottle, a steakhouse here in Charlotte that has been serving locals and celebrities since the 1950s. It's wood paneled, candlelit, and well, they serve steaks.  At the end of our meal, there was a special birthday cake and candle for the man of the hour.

We devoured that cake and ice cream combo, and managed to wait a whole day until we broke out his Ben & Jerry's ice cream cake, complete with one layer of Cookies and Cream and one layer of Cherry Garcia. There's fruit involved, so it's clearly healthy.

The t-shirt, for those of you who are laughing, is one of his favorites. I will admit that I covet that shirt, and should I ever find it in my size, he and I will both be proud owners.

The rest of birthday weekend was low key, with some exciting activities like staining the deck and patching dry wall, and then Sunday we took one final victory lap with a fantastic birthday brunch. Friends brought balloons, gifts, and yes: one more cake and some candles. We topped off eggs Benedict, grits, prime rib, biscuits and gravy, french toast, and bacon with some very delicious triple chocolate cake.

All good things must come to an end, but we gave celebrating all we had for a solid two weeks. A good time was had by all--especially those of us who didn't have to get a year older in the process! I suppose now it's time to get back to some real world least until the I Love the 90s concert on Friday night.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Home Sweet Home

After 12 weeks (86 1/2 days, but who's counting?), I am happy to announce to you, dear friends, that we are back in our *renovated* home! We will always have the fond memories of our tiny summer apartment, including the bug infestation, loud neighbors, and general subpar quality of living.

While we are back in the house, we still have quite a few things left to do before we are finished with our renovation. There's a handful of things that need painting, a smattering of things that need reattaching, a quarter of an inch of dust on some/most/all of our belongings that stayed in the house, but we have made major inroads. We still need curtains and plenty of accessories and finishing touches. But we'll get there. Allow me to give you a tour of the progress we have made so far. Bear with us; we're not finished yet, but compared to the Formica counters and laminate floors we enjoyed in our temporary dwelling, we are in heaven.

(Side note: when everything is finished, I will show some before and after pictures. I would do that now, but I dropped my phone in a toilet at the Dave Matthews Band concert back in May and all my memories were, alas, flushed down the drain. Literally.)

The biggest change we made was to our kitchen. Specifically, we knocked out the wall between our family room and kitchen and took down another wall of cabinets that essentially chopped our tiny, dark little kitchen in half. The result is a big, bright space that is open and airy.

It's so nice not to need to wear a miner's helmet with that little built-in headlight to see what you're doing while preparing food. If you'll pardon the carpet remnant we had to put down so our blind dog has a "safe" place to eat, the room turned out quite well. It's really too pretty to mess up, so I've been cooking sparingly (wink). Plus, I haven't read the manual on my fancy schmancy new double convection ovens yet and I'm clueless about all the bells and whistles. I am happy to report that the microwave works like a dream, though. Also, two gorgeous valances to hang above those windows are being made as we speak. And maybe Santa can load some bar stools for the island in his sleigh this year? We've been really good.

Let's all take a moment and ogle that gorgeous light fixture, shall we? Focus on that and not on the fact that we do not yet possess a dining table and chairs for our custom built banquette, which is being some point. The banquette was my idea, and I'll just go ahead and tell you that a money saver it was not. We have joked that for the price we paid for that seating, we could have bought a new car and parked it in our kitchen and I could have donned some roller skates and played car hop for our meals each day. But it's got character, right?

This is the master bathroom, tiny though it may be. We replaced some drab 1970s avocado green tile with this gorgeous gray in the shower and white on the floor. The vanity still needs to be painted, those ugly blinds are absolutely being replaced, and "hang bathroom window treatment" is at the top of Clint's honey-do list (which, at this point, is about as long as the Dead Sea scrolls). While we're at it, did you know that glass shower doors are supposed to be cleaned with a squeegee after every use? Are we all really doing that? I have also discovered I am the world's worst at operating a squeegee; it's like I have two left hands and all thumbs. I guess this means I will never fulfill my dream of being a window washer. That said, if anyone has any tips for squeegee excellence and maneuverability, I am all ears. Bonus points if you know how to avoid the squeegee game all together.

This is where the magic happens: the master bedroom. And by magic, I mean deep, peaceful sleeping without feeling suffocated or waking up in a flop sweat. Clint really wanted a king size bed, even though I thought it was unnecessary, so in the spirit of compromise we got this gargantuan thing and he loves it. Because our alarm clock is on his side of the bed, every morning when it's my turn to get up, I find myself commando crawling across a solid five feet of memory foam to reach the clock and turn it off. I'm not saying it should be an obstacle on American Ninja Warrior, but it does resemble a physical challenge from the 1990s kids' game show Double Dare.

And someone else is quite fond of the new bed as well. His days are so hectic and stressful, I'm glad he's finally found a place to unwind and relax. We all need a place we can flop down and let our tongues hang out, right?

Last but not least, here is our new deck. It looks almost identical to our old deck, save for the fact that it isn't dilapidated and practically falling off the house. It still needs to be stained (see also: Clint's honey-do list), but we should have it ready in time to enjoy the fire pit and some cooler fall weather here in a few weeks.

My granddaddy was fond of saying that as long as you have a house, you will never be bored. I have never agreed with him more. We still have some HVAC work to be tackled, carpentry work to be completed, and the entire exterior of the house is going to be pressure washed and painted. I'll keep you updated, but for now, we are headed off for a much anticipated vacation. If you are a praying fellow, please send up a prayer that the Caribbean is hurricane-free next week and that we get a little rest and relaxation before we come back to tackle the rest of our tasks.

And lest it be completely forgotten (although I'm sure I will have PTSD nightmares and flashbacks for months to come), let's all bid a fond farewell to the summer abode. Shut the door on that adventure--it is over!

Goodbye, apartment 4518B.
It was only three months, but you managed to make it feel like a lifetime.